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June 21 2013


“Angry Birds” is One of the Biggest Video Channels “On Planet”

CANNES — One of the world’s most popular games could also become one of its most pervasive video brands, after Rovio added its Angry Birds Toons cartoon channel to its mobile apps.

“Overnight, we updated 1.7 billion games back in March. We’re doing over 100 million views a month,” Rovio chief marketing officer Peter Vesterbacka told Beet.TV in this video interview during the Cannes Lions advertiser conflab. “It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, video distribution networks on the planet now.”

Initially, the video addition was to carry Rovio’s own weekly Angry Birds animated series. But the Finnish firm added a promo channel for Disney’s ‘Monsters University’ movie, and now Vesterbacka is promising this digital audience scale to advertisers in Cannes.

“Brands want to be on the first screen,” he said. “The first screen is mobile and tablet, it’s not TV anymore.”

April 24 2012


The "Addressable" Electorate: Microsoft Xbox LIVE and 2012 Presidential Election

Microsoft's Xbox LIVE, the fast growing gaming console, which has become a primary video consumption platform for some 40 million users around the globe, allows advertisers to reach highly specific audiences according to interests, gender, location and other factors. 

Here in in the United States, Microsoft is working with advertisers on several micro-targeted campaigns. 

In this interview with Beet.TV, Ross Honey, GM of Xbox LIVE Entertainment and Advertising, says that there is  a big opportunity for geo-targeting in the upcoming presidential campaign, notably in swing states.   He says that Microsoft is currently "in discussions"  with the national campaigns to implement these solutions.

Also in the interview, Honey explained the new relationship with longtime content partner ESPN and the new arrangement by which the sports network can sell its own advertising on the Xbox LIVE platform.

We interviewed Honey at the Microsoft Digital New Fronts in Manhattan earlier today.

Andy Plesser

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August 01 2011


CNN's iReport at Five Years: "Core of How We Tell Big, Breaking Stories"

On Tuesday (August 2), hundreds of citizen reporters around the world will attend Meetups organized by CNN to mark the fifth year anniversary of its iReport.

CNN iReport has over 800,000 registered contributors in virtually every nation, says Lila King, Participation Director at CNN Digital and longtime head of iReport, in this interview with Beet.TV

CNN is the leader in integrating UGC into mainstream media news coverage, surfacing content onto both on television and on CNN.com.  Says King, contributions of citizen reporters have become "core of he the way we tell big, breaking stories."

The five years of iReporter have found that editors at CNN have expanded the scope of their work as news "gatherers" to news gatherer/curators.   

In the segment she explains the vetting process around contributed content.

A CNN spokeswoman tells Beet.TV via email that the there are 2.6 million monthly views of iReport content and that an average of 15,000 videos and photos are uploaded monthly to the site.

We spoke with King last week at our studios in New York.

Andy Plesser


May 27 2011


What's next? - Facebook strategy: share music, TV, news, and books

New York Times :: Forbes told us that Facebook has partnered with Spotify to launch a new music service in two weeks. New York Times now delivers a reason: Facebook is developing features that will make the sharing of users’ favorite music, television shows and other media as much a part of its site as playing games or posting vacation photos.

Continue to read Ben Sisario | Miguel Helft, www.nytimes.com

April 13 2011


Newsgames Can Raise the Bar for News, Not Dumb It Down

Earlier this month a group of journalists, game designers, and academics gathered at the University of Minnesota for a workshop on newsgames. I was there, as was fellow Knight News Challenge winner and San Jose Mercury News tech business writer Chris O'Brien. After the event, Chris wrote a a recap of the meeting here on Idea Lab. TechCrunch's Paul Carr penned a grouchy reply, and O'Brien responded in turn.

As an early advocate and creator of newsgames who has spent the last several years researching and writing about the subject, I'm encouraged to see debate flaring up on the subject. But it's important to note that there's not one sole position for or against newsgames. For my part, I can't embrace either Carr's critique or O'Brien's defense.

Carr's riposte boils down to this: If people can't process news without having it turned into a game for them, something's tragically wrong. That's not the position I advocate, of course, so it's heartening to see O'Brien respond so quickly with objection.

But O'Brien's response isn't right either. His retort amounts to: Games are an increasingly popular medium that can keep people engaged; since news doesn't seem to be doing so, why not try something that does?

He's not fundamentally wrong, of course. Games are becoming increasingly popular, and they can capture people's interest differently and sometimes more effectively than other media.

How Games Engage

But vague ideas like popularity and engagement aren't the interesting aspects of games.

newsgames cover.jpg

In fact, there are many different sides to newsgames. My co-authors and I identify seven different approaches to the form in our book "Newsgames: Journalism at Play," including current events, infographics, documentary, literacy, puzzles, community, and platforms.

But the most interesting aspect of games in the context of news is their unique features as a medium. Games communicate differently than other media: They simulate processes rather than telling stories. For this reason, games are great at characterizing the complex behavior of systems.

While traditional methods of newsmaking like writing and broadcasting may seem more sophisticated and respectable than videogames in theory, the opposite is true in practice. In fact, the type of knee-jerk, ad hominem rejoinder and rapid-fire retort that Carr's and O'Brien's posts represent offer a superb example of precisely what's wrong with news today -- online or off. Personality and gossip reigns, while deliberation and synthesis falter.

Because complex characterizations of the dynamics underlying events and situations are already scarce in the news, to accuse games of trivializing civic engagement risks hypocrisy. But it's more than that: The forms of traditional storytelling common to written and broadcast journalism just can't get at the heart of systemic issues. They focus instead on events and individuals, not on the convoluted interconnections between global and local dynamics.

Yet, systemic issues are the most important ones for us to understand today: economics, energy, climate, health, education—all of these are big, messy systems with lots of complex interrelations. As we put it in "Newsgames": "Games offer journalists an opportunity to stop short of the final rendering of a typical news story, and instead to share the raw behaviors and dynamics that describe a situation as the journalistic content."

Intoxication with Games

Despite their recent dispute, O'Brien and Carr share something in common: an affiliation with Silicon Valley-oriented publications. Over the past year, the Valley tech sector has become intoxicated with games, particularly the runaway growth of social network games and the promise of "gamification," the application of arbitrary extrinsic rewards for desired actions on websites or smartphones.

In championing newsgames, I'm advocating something different and more sophisticated than low-effort user acquisition, blind trend-hopping, or crass incentives. It is a value completely at odds with both Carr's critique, and one that O'Brien's defense doesn't adequately capture.

Newsgames don't make news easier and more palatable; that's the negative trend the media industry has embraced for three decades, from USA Today to Twitter.

Instead, newsgames make the news harder and more complex. We shouldn't embrace games because they seem fun or trendy, nor because they dumb down the news, but because they can communicate complex ideas differently and better than writing and pictures and film. Games are raising the bar on news, not lowering it.

March 08 2011


How to Design a Simple Newsgame Authoring Tool

Our teams at Georgia Tech and UC Santa Cruz have been working on an authoring tool that helps journalists quickly create bite-sized newsgames. The Cartoonist has been the working title for the tool because our intention is to create games akin to editorial cartoons, in terms of the amount of information being conveyed and the style of representation. But despite this small scope, the promise of this tool requires intense research and design.

Over the past half-year, we have been faced with a daunting question: How do you create something that can generate games for a seemingly endless list of topics?

Where to Begin?

We started by looking at classic arcade and Atari 2600 games and broke them down into their various components. We then asked questions about what these components mean individually and when interacting with each other. Does Pac-Man eating ghosts map to something metaphorically? Does splitting a dangerous object into two pieces in Asteroids have rhetorical implications? How do familiar game mechanics like shooting, chasing, jumping, racing, and getting power-ups parallel real-world actions?

Games are good at explaining systems and can work through processes to produce variable outcomes. A journalist might report on a story about a local business that gave a politician money in hopes of securing the passage of a beneficial ordinance. What we want is for a journalist to enter this kind of simple relationship into the tool and for it to generate a game that explains the process.

A Unique Concept

Trying to understand how the dynamics of news stories relate to the dynamics of games we found a middle ground of representation in the form of a concept map. This is a way of thinking about actors, relationships, and actions in a news event.

The story is distilled into verb relations between actor nodes while the game is distilled into mechanical relations between actor nodes. The authoring tool is able to group relations and nodes together to produce patterns of events. If one politician is receiving large donations when running for office against another politician, the tool interprets the effect of the donations on the race and makes up tasks for the player and goals to achieve in a game.


Consider the example above. Some citizens of Rio de Janeiro are buying drugs from the gangs, who terrorize the rest of Rio's population. Citizens are demanding help from the Brazilian government, which is using the police to arrest the gangs, who are fighting back. It appears to be a complicated set of relationships that don't obviously translate into a game.

But our tool can interpret these relationships as meaningful patterns: The fear of the citizens is self-perpetuating; the government is indirectly battling the gangs by enabling the police; the gangs have the resources to fight back. Rather than take each of the bubbles piece by piece, the tool looks for groups of relationships to turn into game dynamics.

Simplifying Complexity

What actually makes this happen is far more complex than this description implies. It involves picking appropriate and compatible game mechanics (things moving around the screen, colliding with each other, competing for resources, etc.). But it has been important to have a simple layer of representation that makes it easier to think about this process in our project and discuss it with the journalists who will use it when it is completed.

Our goal is for the journalist to never have to think about how the game is being built. Instead, they focus on what they do best -- synthesizing current events -- and leave the rest to us.

December 19 2010


Games, systems and context in journalism at News Rewired

I went to News Rewired on Thursday, along with dozens of other journalists and folk concerned in various ways with news production. Some threads that ran through the day for me were discussions of how we publish our data (and allow others to do the same), how we link our stories together with each other and the rest of the web, and how we can help our readers to explore context around our stories.

One session focused heavily on SEO for specialist organisations, but included a few sharp lessons for all news organisations. Frank Gosch spoke about the importance of ensuring your site’s RSS feeds are up to date and allow other people to easily subscribe to and even republish your content. Instead of clinging tight to content, it’s good for your search rankings to let other people spread it around.

James Lowery echoed this theme, suggesting that publishers, like governments, should look at providing and publishing their data in re-usable, open formats like XML. It’s easy for data journalists to get hung up on how local councils, for instance, are publishing their data in PDFs, but to miss how our own news organisations are putting out our stories, visualisations and even datasets in formats that limit or even prevent re-use and mashup.

Following on from that, in the session on linked data and the semantic web,Martin Belam spoke about the Guardian’s API, which can be queried to return stories on particular subjects and which is starting to use unique identifiers -MusicBrainz IDs and ISBNs, for instance – to allow lists of stories to be pulled out not simply by text string but using a meaningful identification system. He added that publishers have to licence content in a meaningful way, so that it can be reused widely without running into legal issues.

Silver Oliver said that semantically tagged data, linked data, creates opportunities for pulling in contextual information for our stories from all sorts of other sources. And conversely, if we semantically tag our stories and make it possible for other people to re-use them, we’ll start to see our content popping up in unexpected ways and places.

And in the long term, he suggested, we’ll start to see people following stories completely independently of platform, medium or brand. Tracking a linked data tag (if that’s the right word) and following what’s new, what’s interesting, and what will work on whatever device I happen to have in my hand right now and whatever connection I’m currently on – images, video, audio, text, interactives; wifi, 3G, EDGE, offline. Regardless of who made it.

And this is part of the ongoing move towards creating a web that understands not only objects but also relationships, a world of meaningful nouns and verbs rather than text strings and many-to-many tables. It’s impossible to predict what will come from these developments, but – as an example – it’s not hard to imagine being able to take a photo of a front page on a newsstand and use it to search online for the story it refers to. And the results of that search might have nothing to do with the newspaper brand.

That’s the down side to all this. News consumption – already massively decentralised thanks to the social web – is likely to drift even further away from the cosy silos of news brands (with the honourable exception of paywalled gardens, perhaps). What can individual journalists and news organisations offer that the cloud can’t?

One exciting answer lies in the last session of the day, which looked at journalism and games. I wrote some time ago about ways news organisations were harnessing games, and could do in the future – and the opportunities are now starting to take shape. With constant calls for news organisations to add context to stories, it’s easy to miss the possibility that – as Philip Trippenbachsaid at News Rewired - you can’t explain a system with a story:

Stories can be a great way of transmitting understanding about things that have happened. The trouble is that they are actually a very bad way of transmitting understanding about how things work.

Many of the issues we cover – climate change, government cuts, the deficit – at macro level are systems that could be interestingly and interactively explored with games. (Like this climate change game here, for instance.) Other stories can be articulated and broadened through games in a way that allows for real empathy between the reader/player and the subject because they are experiential rather than intellectual. (Like Escape from Woomera.)

Games allow players to explore systems, scenarios and entire universes in detail, prodding their limits and discovering their flaws and hidden logic. They can be intriguing, tricky, challenging, educational, complex like the best stories can be, but they’re also fun to experience, unlike so much news content that has a tendency to feel like work.

(By the by, this is true not just of computer and console games but also of live, tabletop, board and social games of all sorts – there are rich veins of community journalism that could be developed in these areas too, as theRochester Democrat and Chronicle is hoping to prove for a second time.)

So the big things to take away from News Rewired, for me?

  • The systems within which we do journalism are changing, and the semantic web will most likely bring another seismic change in news consumption and production.
  • It’s going to be increasingly important for us to produce content that both takes advantage of these new technologies and allows others to use these technologies to take advantage of it.
  • And by tapping into the interactive possibilities of the internet through games, we can help our readers explore complex systems that don’t lend themselves to simple stories.

Oh, and some very decent whisky.

Cross-posted at Metamedia.

December 16 2010


Video Site Metacafe Launches Video Game Destination

SAN FRANCISCO  - Metacafe, one of first big online video destination, has been building various special interest areas including one for movie fans.

The week, the company launched a section about video games.  The new site is headed by gaming industry veteran Doug Perry. 

For an overview on the new channnel and progress at Metcafe, we spoke with CEO Eric Hachenburg from San Francisco via SkypeVideo. 

Before joining Metacafe in 2007, Hachenberg headed global operations for Electronics Arts.

Metacafe says it attracts over 12 million unique visitors per month in the United States.

Andy Plesser

Tags: Games Media

December 14 2010


A Brief History of Newsgames: Combining News + Videogames

The newsgames project, which this year won a News Challenge grant, began two and a half years ago with a single question: What is the relationship between videogames and journalism? With the help of the two dozen fellow students at Georgia Tech who've joined us over the past five semesters, we identified and explored seven categories of newsgames on our class blog and in our book, "Newsgames: Journalism at Play". Below is a brief overview of the book in order to encourage people to read the findings of our research.

Current Event Games

The earliest examples of newsgames were games that editorialized about current events. Georgia Tech alumnus Gonzalo Frascas was responsible for one of the first. Kabul Kaboom -- a game based on the Activision classic for the Atari VCS -- comments on the absurdity of providing aid to a country while simultaneously bombing it. There was also September 12th, which was an indictment of the United States' tactical missile strikes on Middle Eastern cities. It sent the message that, rather than killing terrorists, these strikes harm innocent people and give civilians reason to take up arms. Current events games can also report on stories without an editorial line, like Wired's Cutthroat Capitalism. Additionally, just as there are news sources dedicated to celebrities and gossip, there are tabloid games like So You Think You Can Drive, Mel?


Infographics, while different on the surface from how we typically imagine games, actually have a common experience with gaming. While many infographics -- like the bar charts that colorfully adorn the front page of the USA Today -- are simplistic presentations of numbers, good infographics serve the purpose of making sense of complex data.

Journalists can use infographics to guide readers through data in the same way a game guides players through rules. Like games, digital infographics enable manipulation, exploration, and variable outcomes. For example, American Public Media's Budget Hero gives players not only the daunting task of balancing the nation's budget, but also forces them to do so within the constraints of self-selected goals. A balanced budget means nothing if the player fails to live up their promise to increase the salaries of public school teachers.

Documentary Games

Documentary games are a familiar form of newsgame because they resemble the historical scenarios major game developers have tackled in games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. These series, of course, have little to no journalistic content, but they serve as a way of imagining the documentary game form. Some documentary games exist as spatial realities, like a recreation of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. That game produces a familiar setting in 3D, but fails to recreate the experience of living in Soviet-occupied Berlin.

In addition to spatial realities, there are operational realities. This type of documentary game recreates the way an event unfolded. John Kerry's Silver Star Mission, by a company called Kumar\War, positions the player as Senator Kerry when he was a swiftboat pilot in Vietnam. The player tries to reenact the military maneuver that earned him his Silver Star. The purpose of the game was to question the plausibility of the event, an issue that had been raised by the media during the election. A successful mission is supposed to absolve Kerry; a failure condemns him.

Lastly, there exists the potential for a procedural reality. It is a reality that doesn't just recreate a place or reproduce an occurrence, but operates under a set of rules and logic determined by real world events. It helps explain not only what happened, but how it happened. PeaceMaker, a game about Israel and Palestine, plays out the conflict according to a set of rules that govern how each side responds to the other. In doing so, the player can experiment with different policy choices on each side, revealing the extraordinary complexity of the matter.


Puzzles have long been a familiar form of games in the news. The crossword puzzle, originally the word cross, is over a hundred years old. In the 1920s, crossword-mania swept the United States, leading to, ironically, the New York Times condemning crosswords as a "sinful waste."

Puzzles have served the important purpose of drawing people to the newspaper. We would all like to say we first flip to the important events of the day, but in reality people open up the paper to the sports section, the comics, and the daily crossword or Sudoku.

Puzzles tend to be void of journalistic content; however, in a world where the casual gamer has turned to Bejeweled and Facebook games, perhaps journalistic significance will bring readers back to playing the news. The Crickler is a hybrid crossword-trivia game that requires players know current events. And Scoop! gets its crossword solutions from the headlines of website feeds. The relationship between the news and the puzzle is one that would do well to be rekindled.

As has been explored in extensive research, games have the ability to teach. In the process of examining newsgames as learning aids, we arrived first at an obvious answer: There are of course games that teach the practice of being a journalist. Games like Global Conflicts: Palestine put the player in the shoes of a reporter covering the story, helping them to learn to ask the right questions and take accurate notes.

We also came to the realization that the lesson here is not only about becoming a journalist -- it can be about understanding the importance of journalism. In other examples, watchdog media help the player through games like Beyond Good & Evil and Fallout 3, and intrepid photojournalist Frank West's survival of a zombie attack in Dead Rising means nothing without uncovering the truth behind the living dead outbreak.

Community Games

Another type of game is what we call community games -- an umbrella term we came up with to describe everything from big games and scavenger hunts to alternate reality games. As the name implies, these are games to be played with and within a community. Some, like World Without Oil, which asks players to blog and create videos about living in a world where peak oil has caused prices to skyrocket, exist entirely online.

Others, however, like collaboration between the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle newspaper, encourage readers and players to make a connection with their local community. Picture the Impossible offered puzzles to play online, scavenger hunts in the city, and clues to riddles hidden in the pages of the printed paper. From what was reported, the game was at least moderately successful. And, more importantly, it showed a news organization willing to take a risk on something new.


Which brings us to our final category of newsgames: Platforms. In the loosest sense, a platform is anything you build that makes it easier to build other things. Once you've devised the inverted pyramid structure of the news story, you don't need to reinvent the printed format every time you want to publish.

Platforms aren't about building things entirely from scratch. We encourage news organizations to take a look around them to see what resources they already have available. Fantasy football does this on a weekly basis by assigning points to on-field results. It's simple, but wildly successful.

Play the News turned reading into a prediction game. Each story was crafted such that it involved stakeholders and outcomes. After reading through the material and viewing supplementary media, players could predict how an event might play out. Not only did they base their game on existing material (the events of the world), but they designed it so it could be syndicated to other news outlets, which could then use the game to draw readers to their site.

There are all sorts of tools out in the world just waiting for someone to make creative use of. Making a game doesn't have to be about learning to program from scratch -- it can be about taking advantage of things that have already been built. It can be as simple as putting a real news ticker into the Times Square of Grand Theft Auto, or, as complex as using current events to change the system dynamics of your global political strategy game, like in Democracy 2.

The variety outlined in these categories should be encouraging to journalists. What we found is that there is an amazing range of opportunities to experiment with new ideas, and we hope that news organizations are willing to try new things.

November 15 2010


Kinect is a New Advertising Platform for Microsoft

MONACO --  Kinect, the new device for the Xbox consule, which allows players to control the game with their unteathered bodies, will be a significant, new advertising platform, says Carolyn Everson, head of global advertising sales for Microsoft.

We spoke with her on Wednesday (11.10) at the Monaco Media Forum, the day Kinect was launched in Europe.

Everson says that there are some 42 million Xbox live consules installed worldwide.

She cites the ad campaign on Kinect for Chevy Volt, as dmonstration of the potential of this new medium.  We put some images from the Chey campaign and a game demo into this video.

Andy Plesser

October 27 2010


Games Designers and Journalists exploring new narratives.

Presenting Ideas

Presenting Ideas

Meld ‘upped sticks’  to London for its latest foray into new forms of cross platform narrative.  Coinciding with the London launch of Sandbox, UCLan’s creative and digital industries centre at the British Film Institute, journalists invited from the BBC, the Independent, the Guardian, SKY News, Johnston Press, Haymarket Media were joined by Skillset and the Broadcast Journalism Training Council to work with professional games designers and students from UCLan’s MA Games Design programme.

The aim of the day – to collaborate and develop a new game on the theme of ‘democracy’. The cross disciplinary teams were given a basic structure to work within. As well as making sure the end result was compelling, simple and innovative the games needed to:

  • demonstrate cause and effect (results from actions)
  • build/create a user community,
  • grow and develop with that community,
  • respond to users not direct them,
  • be social, inclusive and free.

The Sandbox team were on hand leading the newly formed groups through a series of exercises designed to foster creative collaboration. Four teams each produced a game concept and pitched it to their peers before assessing its viability and desirability.

One of the teams at work

One of the teams at work

Paul Egglestone, who set the project up, said: “What’s really interesting about a process like this is the very different approaches both Journalists and games creators take to narrative. Journalists think of themselves as ‘storytellers’ – as do games creators – but their priorities are very different. Gamers want to build a great game. A decent story provides the vehicle for the game whilst the focus is firmly on the gaming experience. Journalists don’t generally focus on the user experience – they concentrate on telling the story.”

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing project that draws together senior editorial personnel from the BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Independent, Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Haymarket Media, Nokia research as well as freelancers, Indies and sector skills representatives. They’re all committed to working out where the future of journalism lies and to explore new ways of telling stories on digital platforms.

Developing ideas

Developing ideas

Andy Dickinson is leading the project for the School of Journalism, Media and Communication. He recognises the value of this contribution from working journalists taking time away from the cut and thrust of the day-to-day news cycle to collaborate across print, broadcast and online to determine the skills future journalists will need. He says: “The project is at a really exciting stage. We’ve already used the Sandbox method to develop three new MA level modules aimed directly at working journalists. The new digital journalism masters will survey the digital landscape and offer a range of intellectual, creative and digital or technical skills that our ever growing industry panel tell us they’ll be looking for in future.”

This part of the process isn’t due to finish until January 2011 but the first of the new digital modules are ready for delivery online and the School of Journalism, Media and Communication will be recruiting from September this year.

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June 17 2010


June 01 2010


The Mediavore's Dilemma: Making Sustainable Media Choices

The media business is becoming a complex game. A major study recently conducted by the Knight Commission concluded that the Internet and the proliferation of mobile media have unleashed a tsunami of innovation in the creation and distribution of information, a torrent teeming with hundreds of thousands of media channels and millions of media product choices. Yet we also live in a world being confronted by an unprecedented array of environmental threats caused by human activities like agriculture, coal mining, oil extraction, industrial production, electricity use, transportation and deforestation -- all of which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

A factor making the media game even more complex is the carbon footprint created by media brands and their supply chains as they compete for advertising dollars and vie for consumer attention. However, despite growing investor and corporate concern about the greenhouse gas emissions, or "carbon intensity," of consumer products and their supply chains, limited consideration has been given to the carbon footprint of media products and their supply chains.

Can advertisers afford to ignore the environmental threats associated with their media supply chain choices? Can consumers afford to ignore the carbon footprint of their media choices...even if their individual impacts may appear to be small?

This article doesn't have all of the answers, but hopefully it will open your eyes to some of the issues and begin a broader discussion about what may be at stake. It is my hope that this and subsequent posts will lead to a better understanding of the carbon footprint of media products so that advertisers, media companies and consumers can resolve what I call "The Mediavore's Dilemma" -- how to enjoy the media bounty before us while minimizing the climate change risks and environmental threats associated with our advertising and media choices.

(You can read my earlier report for MediaShift: Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?)

As concern about the environment and consumer awareness about issues like climate change rise, publishers are likely to respond with a bumper crop of "green" media products. Brands will probably pump out ads chock-a-block with green messages to run on the pages and pixels of those products. The jury is still out on whether changing consumer, investor and/or regulatory pressure could change the game and move them to make comparable efforts to identify, measure, improve and communicate the environmental impacts associated with their media products and media supply chains. In the meantime, concern about climate change and carbon footprints continues to grow among global leaders and many high growth companies.

In a recent Ernst & Young survey of global organizations with greater than $25 billion in market capitalization, 73 percent had made commitments to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Interestingly, 43 percent of respondents believe that equity analysts are including climate change factors in their valuations and 30 percent anticipate climate change factors will find their way into these analyses in the next five years.

The report, Action Amid Uncertainty -- The business response to climate change, probed 300 global executives from corporations with annual revenue of $1 billion or more on how they are responding to climate challenges. According to Mark Foster, group chief executive of management consulting and global markets at Accenture, "Effective carbon disclosure helps corporations mitigate investment risk and achieve more sustainable performance."

Nonetheless, comprehensive carbon disclosure has not been a significant priority among major advertisers or media companies.

Game Change?

The recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has spurred a game-changing shift in Americans' environmental attitudes. For the last few years, Americans' environmental concerns declined as the public placed a higher priority on pocketbook concerns like the economy and energy, likely due to the poor U.S. economy. However, a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates that trend has reversed in just two months' time and the pro-environment position has regained the strength it showed for most of the last decade. Given the sensitivity of marketers to public opinion, it is highly likely that this change in public opinion could change the priorities of advertisers and media companies to carbon disclosure.

Oil Spill Alters Views on Environmental Protection

Another factor that could change the priorities of advertisers and media companies is regulation and/or fear of litigation.

"The question arises as to what legal structure will be able to cope with this coming explosion of green advertising and green media marketing claims," said John Lichtenberger, publisher of GreenAdvertisingLaw.com. "Advertisers need to know what is required for such ads before they prepare them and consumers increasingly want to know the environmental backstory of the media products they consume...it's sort of like 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' for media."

How Do You Choose Your Media Menu?

Just as we must increasingly give thought to how we grow, process and distribute the food that feeds our families, we must also step up our efforts to consider and disclose the flows of energy, materials and waste associated with the media products that feed our minds. Uninformed media choices are not an option. For advertisers and media companies they carry brand and regulatory risks. For the public they carry zero sum risks that may constrain or curtail freedom to communicate and result in other unintended consequences. Informed choices can increase the possibilities for a vibrant economy and effective government, as well as a sustainable and civil society.

One of the key obstacles to making effective comparisons and informed choices is the lack of standardized media product descriptions and category rules for the myriad of different media devices and media products that advertisers and consumers have to choose from. Media category definitions and product rules for lifecycle inventory data accounting and disclosure of carbon footprint data are needed. Without these, the best one can do is to use checklists or rely on guidelines like The Living Principles. While using rules of thumb is better than doing nothing at all, they are blunt instruments being used where more accurate and effective lifecycle analysis and carbon footprinting tools for media products are required.

Can We Afford Unsustainable Media Choices?

The Mediavore's Dilemma is selecting media products and choosing patterns of media use that meet our needs for entertainment, education and communication, while minimizing the negative environmental impacts and carbon footprints associated with them. Ideally our media choices should lead to outcomes that are sustainable i.e. environmentally restorative, socially constructive and economically beneficial.

A template for much of what needs to be done exists in the collaborative efforts of the Carbon Disclosure Project and The Sustainability Consortium, as well as in the individual efforts of major brands like Ford, IKEA, Levi Strauss, and others. Those companies call on providers in their supply chains to disclose the environmental lifecycle impacts, climate change risks and "carbon footprints" associated with the goods and services they sell. These requests coupled with the specifications, standards and data that they develop are the keys to making informed supply chain decisions. By focusing and adapting their work to advertising and media devices, products and supply chains it is possible that the challenge of making informed media choices will be less of a challenge than a clean-sheet exercise.

Another factor to be considered is the issue of "materiality" i.e. when carbon disclosure is deemed to be significant to investors. Several large investor groups representing more than $8 trillion in assets under management recently requested the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to issue guidance on the disclosure of climate-related information on the basis that it is material to their investment decisions even to companies whose carbon footprints are relatively small -- and thus whose climate change risks are not likely to be material.

While these calls for carbon disclosure have continued to grow, so far little attention has been paid to the carbon footprint of advertising or to the environmental impacts and climate risks associated with the creation, production, distribution and use of communication and entertainment media. However, last week the Ford Motor Company, one of the world's largest advertisers, announced plans to survey 35 of top global suppliers on their energy use and estimated greenhouse gas emissions. And while it does not currently address the carbon footprint of advertising or media suppliers, it may in the future.

John Viera, Ford Motor Company's VP of sustainability and environmental policy responded to my request for insight about this trend with a statement that suggests a broader set of requests that might include advertising and media suppliers is a possibility:

Currently advertising suppliers are not explicitly included in our supplier survey associated with Ford's efforts to better understand the carbon footprint of its supply chain. At this time Ford's initial efforts are focused on direct first tier suppliers providing higher carbon intensity commodities for vehicle production. However, beyond resources required for supplier engagement, we are not presently aware of any particular or unique barriers to measuring and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of advertising suppliers.

While some may find this statement encouraging, one must be realistic about the prospects that Ford or any other advertiser will be able to address this issue alone or to build a quorum of like minded brands to join them. A recent Accenture report on supply chain carbon reports that only 10 percent of companies actively model their supply chain carbon footprints or have implemented successful sustainability initiatives.

Why Lifecycle Analysis and Carbon Footprinting Matter

When the June 1996 issue of Life magazine ran a story about child labor in Pakistan that showed a 12-year-old surrounded by the pieces of a Nike soccer ball, activists across the U.S. were soon marching in protest outside of Nike stores holding up the photos. Nike quickly found how brands can be held accountable for the social and environmental transgressions of their extended supply chains. Shortly after the story was published, Nike stepped up its efforts in supply chain scrutiny and joined a coalition of companies, labor organizations and human rights groups to draft an industry-wide code of conduct that would eliminate child labor from their back story.


Today, there is growing pressure for major brands to call upon companies in their supply chains to disclose environmental lifecycle impact data. They are also called upon to work with suppliers to innovate the carbon and climate-change risk out of their product and packaging supply chains.

Until recently, those studying media focused on the social and economic effects of advertising and media content to determine their impacts on our opinions and behaviors. However, the size, scope, dynamics and growth rate of today's media consumption patterns are making it increasingly important that we also consider the environmental lifecycle aspects of media devices as well as the carbon footprint of their supply chains, when we make media choices.

If there is greater awareness of just how big the media industry is, and of how big its carbon footprint is likely to be, significant calls for carbon disclosure are more likely to be extended to advertising and media supply chains. The media game is a big business with a carbon footprint to match.

How Big is the Media's Carbon Footprint?

Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a private equity firm, reported that the media industry rose from the 10th largest sector of the economy in 1975 to the 5th largest in 2009. According to the 2009 Deloitte Media and Entertainment Industry Outlook, media and entertainment is one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy: About $950 billion was spent on products and services provided by media and entertainment companies in 2006. That spending is expected to grow by 38 percent to $1.3 trillion by 2011.

Another key aspect of the media game that can be measured is advertising spend. A major source of revenue to media companies is the purchase of advertising by brands who spend in excess of $125 billion in the U.S. each year to sponsor media products. Close to $500 billion is spent each year worldwide. According to research firm Kantar Media, while advertising expenditures fell 12.3 percent in 2009 due to the recession, advertising expenditures in the first quarter of 2010 rose 5.1 percent from 2009 to $31.3 billion.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that approximately 360,000 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions are associated with each billion dollars of economic activity, which would mean the carbon footprint of the media industry could be as much as 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gas. That would be equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 130 coal-fired power plants burning 2.6 million railcars of coal; or the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 95 million four passenger vehicles burning 56 billion gallons of gasoline. The DOE also reported that in 2008 the United States consumed about 138 billion gallons (or 3.3 billion barrels) of gasoline and emitted approximately 6.9 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas.

Is Size All That Matters?

In addition to measuring economic activity, there are other aspects of media's carbon footprint -- such as time spent consuming media -- that can be used to estimate emissions. This is particularly important in the case of digital media in that, unlike printed media, digital media devices consume energy when being used and when they are in standby mode.

Veronis Suhler Stevenson estimated that overall per capita consumption of media in the U.S. has increased by almost 30 percent over the last 35 years, from 2,843 hours per year in 1975 to 3,532 hours in 2009, and about half of those hours are spent on videogames, Internet, and mobile services. Also, a recent Gamer Segmentation Report 2010 by research firm NPD found that U.S. gamers are spending 13 hours per week playing energy intensive games, up from 12.3 hours in 2009, with "extreme gamers" representing 4 percent of the sample surveyed averaging 48.5 hours of game play per week.

Multi-Tasking Mania

American consumers also appear to be adding more media channels to the menu as well as doing more media multitasking. According to the Thee Screen Report from research firm Nielsen Media, as of 2Q 2009 the 290 million people in the U.S. with TVs spend on average 141 hours each month tuning into television. Mobile video viewing continues its upward trend, with over 15 million Americans reporting watching mobile video in Q2 2009. This is an increase of 70 percent versus last year -- the largest annual growth to date.

In addition to adding more digital media channels and products to the menu, Nielsen reports that American households are also adding more digital media devices... devices which can have significant "embodied energy" carbon footprints in addition to the energy they consume during use or in "sleep mode." While the media industry lags other business sectors such as the building products industry in categorizing and documenting the embodied energy and carbon intensity of its products, the precedent nonetheless exists in development of lifecycle data repositories such as the U.S. Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) Database.

Fifty-four percent of Americans have three or more TV sets in the home, and more than half of Americans (57 percent) who have Internet access at home, use television and the Internet simultaneously at least once a month. NPD reports that portable navigation devices have found their way into nearly 40 percent of U.S. households, up from 30 percent in 2009 and e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, are increasing in penetration and are now in 5 percent of U.S. households. Also, the recent State of Media Democracy survey by Deloitte indicates that nearly 60 percent of U.S. homes now own a videogame console, a dramatic increase from 44 percent three years ago.

It is unlikely that such growth can be managed for sustainability without the identification, measurement and disclosure of carbon footprint and lifecycle inventory data.

Houston, We Have a Wicked Problem

Make no mistake, the Mediavore's Dilemma is what Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel called a "Wicked Problem" i.e. one that cannot be solved by a single individual or any one company using conventional thinking. Creating the tools and knowledge required to resolve the Mediavore's Dilemma will require data, collaboration, informed dialogue and systems thinking that could take years.

There are several reasons why solving the Mediavore's Dilemma is a wicked problem that has so far failed to reach a tipping point in support from advertising and media companies:

  • Awareness of what is at stake is low and there has been little explicit investor, regulatory, consumer or activist demand for disclosure of advertising and media supply chain carbon footprints.
  • Advertisers are two to three steps removed from the majority of media supply chain emissions, resulting in inadequate visibility across all tiers and levels of their media supply chains.
  • No brand purchases more than 10 percent of the $150 billion spent on advertising in the U.S. annually, and a myriad of media products results in a highly fragmented market that limits the control of even the largest of advertisers.
  • Functional silos and limited subject matter expertise in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) are obstacles to deployment of media supply chain scorecards or standards-based scoring systems.
  • The lack of meaningful LCA product category definitions for existing media products is an obstacle to standards-based disclosure and comparison of media product carbon risks.
  • Media industry turmoil and changing media industry business models have made it difficult to make a coherent business case for the allocation of costs and benefits that would result from tackling the problem.

The fact that the Mediavore's Dilemma is a wicked problem doesn't mean we shouldn't try to solve it, and it doesn't mean that we must wait for it to be solved in order to take steps in the right direction. To raise awareness and spur action addressing these issues the Institute for Sustainable Communication (where I am a senior fellow) has been making slow but steady progress working with groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Carbon Trust and Ad-ID to draw attention to the issue and reach out to advertisers and their supply chain partners through ISC's Sustainable Advertising Partnership initiative.

Ultimately the Mediavore's Dilemma is a problem that may best be solved as a "serious game" that engages our collective curiosity and expands our collective wisdom. In the meantime, it is my hope that your questions, comments, suggestions and support in response to this article will help raise awareness of our efforts and assist us in developing better solutions for all of the stakeholders that business, government and world at large depend upon.

MediaShift environmental correspondent Don Carli is senior research fellow with the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) where he is director of The Sustainable Advertising Partnership and other corporate responsibility and sustainability programs addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of advertising, marketing, publishing and enterprise communication supply chains. Don is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Program affiliate scholar and is also sustainability editor of Aktuell Grafisk Information Magazine based in Sweden. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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May 28 2010


"Game Time is Prime Time" as Microsoft Xbox LIVE as Audience Reaches 23 Million

Microsoft's Xbox LIVE has some 23 million subscribers with two million watching concurrently.  With such a big,  engaged audience, Microsoft has created a hybrid media environment for advertisers seeking to reach 18-24 year old males.

Company executives say the fast growing service has reached a sort of critical mass, on par with a major cable network, and is charging advertisers rates on the level with television, considerable higher that for online media.

We spoke recently with Mark Kroese who heads up advertising for  entertainment and devices at Microsoft.  He explains and we demo the various advertising opportunities on the "network" including in-game product placements, micro-sites and video ads.

Kroese claims that Xbox LIVE is the "largest" social network" around a media property.  

Beyond games, the platform has expanded with a wide range of entertainment offerings, and the offering will continue to expand, he says.

About two thirds of Xbox owners opt to subscribe to the live service, which has an annual fee of $50.

The service is offered in 23 countries.

Andy Plesser, Executive Producer

March 15 2010


Facebook Connect Implemented by 80,000 Web Sites -- Gaming Is the Hottest Sector

PALO ALTO -- Facebook has 80,000 sites using Facebook Connect, according to Ethan Beard, who heads up the company's developer network.

The most popular implementation for Facebook Connect is around gaming, citing the massive success of Farmville.

In Austin at SXSW, CNET's Caroline McCarthy reports that Facebook is "flexing its gaming muscle."

This is the third of three interviews done by Daisy down at Facebook.

Andy Plesser, Executive Producer

February 01 2010


Video Volunteers Gets some Boost from Bollywood

Video Volunteers had a great moment a couple weeks ago - we got our first celebrity ambassador for the organization, a very popular Indian film actor named Abhay Deol, who has acted in some of the best "art" films of the last few years. We organized a screening in one of the bastis (slums) in Mumbai where two of our Community Video Units in our Knight-funded project have been working for the last few years. Slum residents from all over the area turned up, as well as all the major Bombay TV stations and of course our community producers. They were so proud to have a star they all admired there singing their praises! We showed a selection of films from the different Community Video Units, and then Stalin, my partner, spoke a bit about VV and community media. At the end, the producers and Abhay felicitated the CVU volunteers from the area and gave them a VV flier with an autographed photo of Abhay. This was given to the volunteers who've provided electricity, organized special screenings, and helped the community producers in their stories.

Having a celebrity ambassador will be helpful for a lot of reasons. One, he is going to help us in our outreach to TV news networks whom we are approaching to air content produced by communities. His name will mean a lot there. Also, he can help us popularize community media amongst his fans and his peers in the Bollywood film industry. This is important because we don't want community media to always be seen as alternative and unusual. The poor represent the majority of humanity and so their media representatives needn't always be seen as "special" and alternative. He and his friend Imtiyaz Ali, a director of some of the best Indian films of the last few years, stood on the stage and told the Producers at the screening that their videos were better than some of what was coming out in Bollywood.

As young people get more into making their own media - mash ups, facebook, cell phone videos, etc.) and seeking it out proactively from hundreds of sources- a massively beneficial side effect is that they learn to critique the media. Though we may not have seen it yet, I think in the next few years we'll see people turning more towards documentaries instead of TV. As these kids teach themselves to make media and express themselves on what they are passionate about, won't they naturally be drawn to the media form - documentary - that is most driven by someone's personal passion and concern for an issue? So in that sense, when a big star wants to tell his own audience to see the connections between the alternative and the mainstream media, I think he is tapping into something bigger.

I had met Abhay Deol earlier at TED India, where I was one of the TED Fellows. He was one of the speakers, talking about storytelling and how he works to get his passion projects taken up. So many of the issues he cared about - issues with Muslims, Tribals and other disadvantaged groups -were issues we work on so it felt like a real affinity. His latest film is essentially an Indian "Cinema Paradiso." He plays a guy who travels around India with a projector showing films in villages... very similar to what we do! We talked about VV's work and he was excited, and so agreed to come on as an ambassador for us. We have a few more ideas for press events with him, like having him do trainings with the community producers and inviting some key magazines for that, and this weekend he's the guest editor for one of the major Indian papers and will be interviewing us. I've always thought that people from Hollywood would be natural endorsers or supporters of new media projects but never knew how to reach out to them. So we're excited this has happened.

Here's what he's said, which has been quoted directly in some of the articles:

"They need financial support and have over 100 trained producers. They are also willing to provide new content to TV channels thus making reporters out of local people who make short films on community issues like infra- structure, domestic violence, child marriage, clean water. Anybody who is interested in filming can join. They teach editing and computers too."

Abhay feels, "This is the potential of the digital revolution, the poor in India can finally make their voices heard to the mainstream media and to government," says Deol. "And in a place like India, with high levels of illiteracy, video and film are a perfect medium. Giving people the tools to make their own media is a great way to enable more people to participate in our democracy."

November 21 2009


Microsoft's Xbox: A Fast Evolving Broadband Video Platform: Zune has 25,000 Clips of Premium Content

Introduced as videogame console, the Xbox from Microsoft is fast becoming powerful video viewing device with the introduction of Zune, the new video streaming platform.

The device connects to the Internet and streams high quality video.  It has a number of offerings including Netflix, Last.fm, integration with social networks and new video product called Zune.

A number of the enhanced services are available via a $50,  annual subscription to Xbox Live Gold.  This weekend, Microsoft is offering free sign-ups for the service as a promotion. 

We caught up with Xbox General Manager Marc Whitten on Wednesday at the Streaming Media West show in San Jose.

Marc told us that 25,000 "pieces" of premium video content is up on Zune for the launch.

Andy Plesser, Executive Producer

November 16 2009


Communications Forum: "What's New at the Center for Future Civic Media"

MIT Center for Future Civic Media Director Chris Csikszentmihalyi presents the Center's most recent projects. From community mapping to news tracking, from collective action to rural empowerment, from cultural mixing to carbon consciousness, civic media is any technology or technique that strengthens a geographic community. Civic media researchers will demonstrate their projects in a lightning-round format, with time for discussion and questions following each presentation listed below.

read more

July 05 2008


July 03 2008


Wintermute Engine » about

Wintermute Engine Development Kit is a set of tools for creating and running graphical “point&click” adventure games, both traditional 2D ones and modern 2.5D games (3D characters on 2D backgrounds). The kit includes the runtime interpreter (Wintermut
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